Monday, 27 April 2009

Past constructions I: red linen cote

This series of posts exists to record some of the cutting plans I have used for tunics in the past, and to save their dimensions for future use. It's mainly for me so I don't have to keep remeasuring and guessing, but you may find this useful to work out your own cutting plans, especially if you are a local who has tried on any of my tunics and can compare the fit.

My dark red (maybe even burgandy) linen cote was my first completely handsewn garment. The fabric was a thin (shirtweight) fairly evenly, but not very tightly woven fabric, which all my tests diagnosed as linen. As it was a bargain buy without labels, I'll never be able to be quite sure if my identification was correct. The fabric was a little thin for a dress, but it was cheap, available and not cotton. And I was having to wear garb on 40C days occasionally.

The thread was ordinary sewing thread - gutterman's polycotton machine thread. In retrospect this wasn't a good choice. The thread slips easily through the linen, possibly even cutting into it a little. Seams in running stitch on this garment form gaps easily, and even backstitch forms gaps easily. I don't think this was a problem with my sewing, as this happens on all the seams on the garment, but was instantly fixed when I made the next garment with linen thread that grips the fabric just a little. I also regret the choice to use black thread. It would have been difficult to dye any thread this black, and most linen thread would have been undyed I believe.

Seams were constructed by sewing running or backstitch and then flattening the seam allowance (with cut edge folded under) to both sides of the seam and sewing it down with running stitch . I didn't know that stronger and more period methods such as flat-felling to the same side existed when I did this. Again I'd fallen for the myth that this seam style, known from the back of a pair of London hose, was a common style.

The cutting plan used for this garment used simple rectangles and triangles as are seen in various period tunics. This garment was tighter on the body to follow the fashion for tightly fitted garments in the 12th C.

The garment ended up a little shorter than I had planned, because after sewing everything together, I discovered the gores started too low down the body. I ended up unpicking the sleeves and taking up the shoulders (by about 5cm?) to fix this, because I couldn't face unpicking and resewing all those long skirt seams. Originally the whole body (front and back) was one long piece, and the shoulder seams were flat.

The centre gore was not very easy to insert neatly, and I'm still not very fond of the look of centre gores. This was the last time I bothered inserting center gores for several garments, as side gores are so much simpler.

Originally I inserted fichets in the side seams of this dress so I could conceal a pouch beneath my skirts. I'd noticed very few pouches shown in pictures, and posited that a concealed pouch could explain this. Unlike the later garments I'd copied the fichets from, my fichets were very much to the side of the garment as they were placed in a seam rather than cut holes in the fabric (something I'm still scared of), and there were very few seams to choose from in my garment. My fichets were thus a little less practical than they might have been, but still worked fine.

However, having a pouch tangling in my skirts was a bother when dancing, and having a
gap through which my chemise showed was most improper.
That's not me acting strangely, the photographer has caught me mid galliard, and you can see my fichet quite clearly. Here's a photo showing that the fichet showed even when posed quite sedately:
Eventually I sewed up the fichets because I wasn't really using them anymore. I think having a fichet on the main dress layer, rather than an extra (overcoat equivalent) layer worn outdoors was silly, as my chemise showed, and a medieval lady would be more likely to carry a pouch outdoor than indoors when dancing. Unfortunately my mild climate seldom allows me the chance to wear an extra layer outdoors in summer.

Here's a shot with the simple yet elegant keyhole neckline showing clearly:
I normally fasten the neckline with a penannular or disc broach, but it sits quite happily and decently without one.

And a photo of the tunic laid flat - see how there really are no cures in the design, yet it does curve to the body. I really like the cut of this garment for an everyday garment.

Overall, this garment has served it's purpose very well indeed. This garment is so practical and comfortable that it has had 3 times the wear of any of my other dresses. It packs up small, washes easily, is cool in summer and hides wine stains quite well. (I don't drink wine that often, but I seem to always manage to spill some on me, even if it's only the sauce on the pears)

The only thing that I regret on this garment is the fabric and the seam finishing treatments. The linen is a bit more drab than wool or silk, not easily doccumentable (as a coloured fabric), a little cold when wet, it just doesn't have good drape, and the fabric is so weak that it will tear into rags soon. And thus was hatched my plan to make a really thin woolen dress cut to this pattern to replace this garment.